Backstage at Monday Night RAW, NXT Champion Kevin Owens is walking towards the locker room after another successful defense of his NXT Championship in the NXT Championship Open Challenge.
“Heath Slater is a tough kid”, he thought to himself as he walked towards the dressing rooms. “Good moves tonight too. He deserves to get more television time and better matches… Just not at my expense though.”
As Owens walked into the dressing room, he looked around. R-Truth and Jack Swagger were in the corner of the room playing cards. Titus O’Neill was listening to his tag team partner, Darren Young talk about some mutual friends. Zack Ryder and Dolph Ziggler were having a friendly argument with Macho Mandow and Axelmania about the NBA Championship series.
But as Kevin walked into the room, everything seemed to freeze. All the talking stopped and everyone seemed to look in his direction.
“What?”, Kevin asked. “Why has everyone gotten so quiet? What’s going on?”
“I think I hear Stephanie calling”, Ziggler spoke up as he walked past Owens and out of the room.
“Wait, we’ll go with you”, Ryder said as he signaled for Mandow and Axelmania to follow them.
“I have to go to the Gorilla position”, Swagger said as he stood up and walked out.
“I think I saw a spider”, Truth said. “I ain’t staying in here with no spider!”
As Truth and Swagger left, Owens turned to the only two men remaining in the room, Titus and Darren.
“What’s going on?”, Owens asked the two Prime Time Players? “Why is everyone leaving?”
Darren looked as if he was fixing to say something, but Titus touched him on the shoulder and shook his head. Darren quickly closed his mouth, put his head down and walked out, followed closely by his tag team partner.
“Damn, that’s weird”, Owens thought to himself. “I wonder why everyone left so…”
And then he saw the shape of a man sitting in the far corner of the room. Older and definitely having seen better days, but sitting straight, tall and proud. The quiet, but strong gravely voice carried across the room. Harley Race was here and he had something to say.
“Mr. Race? Harley? How are you sir?”, Owens started to say, trying to show the proper respect to the former 8-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, but Harley raised a hand and spoke.
“Be quiet and shut your mouth”, Harley said.
Owens started to respond, but the cold, hard look on Race’s face quickly made him rethink that decision and he stayed quiet.
“Sit down!”, Race said, pointing towards a bench next to where Race was sitting.
Owens sat down and Race began to speak.
“A few weeks ago, on the TV, you had a confrontation with John Cena. And after laying Cena out, you stepped on the United States Championship belt.”
Owens started to speak to defend himself, but Race quickly stopped him before he could start speaking.
“Just be quiet and listen”, Race said. “I was the first man to hold that United States Championship. I won that belt in 1975 and apart from my NWA Championships, it was one of the proudest moments in my career. Do you understand me?”
Owens again started to speak, but seeing the fire in Race’s eyes, just nodded instead.
“Some great legends have held the United States Championship. Men like Johnny Valentine, Ric Flair, Paul Jones, Wahoo, Rick Steamboat, Blackjack Mulligan, Roddy Piper, Snuka, Greg Valentine, Tim Woods and so on. Real men… real wrestlers. And when you stepped on that title, you stepped on every single one of us. And I don’t like it!”
Race paused for a moment and gave Owens a cold, hard stare before continuing.
“Listen, I know that you were only doing as you were told by Vince or one of the agents. I get that. That’s the only reason I’m not in here slapping the shit out of you and am talking instead. I’ll make this to the point. You’re a good kid with a hell of a lot of talent. I’ve watched your matches and you’ve impressed the hell out of me. You’re damn good in that ring and on the mic and I wish like hell that I was twenty years younger. I would love to have a go with you in that ring. You’ve got a big future ahead of you and if I can ever help you out in any way, just let me know.”
Harley paused to take a breath and continued once more.
“But I’m only going to say this once. Talking junk and getting yourself over is fine. Beating the hell out of Cena is fine. Being proud to be the NXT Champion… that’s fine. But if you ever step on that U.S. title belt again, if you ever disrespect me or the other men who have held that championship like that again, you’re going to deal with me and I won’t be so damn nice. Now, you wanted to say something?”
Owens hesitated for a moment and then began to speak.
“Mr. Race”, Owens began to say, but Race cut him off.
“Harley”, he said. “We’re both men here and the only time I ever hear Mr. Race being used is when some damn cop is trying to give me a speeding ticket.”
“Well, Harley then”, Owens started once more. “It was never my intentions to disrespect you or the United States Championship or any of the men who have held that title since it’s inception. My intentions were to put over myself and my NXT Championship. I was told to go out there and convince everyone watching, all of the fans, that I’m the better man and the better champion than Cena and that’s exactly what I did. I was told to make an impact and so I did.”
“Who’s idea was it to step on the title belt like you did?”, Race asked.
“One of the writers”, Owens admitted. “I wasn’t happy with the idea, but I’m still new here and can’t rock the boat by saying no or arguing too much.”
“Well, if they ever tell you do do something like that again, say no. If they have a problem with that, they can take it up with me personally. I’ll make sure that Vince and Hunter know that too. You won’t catch any heat so don’t stress it.”
Harley smiled and said, “Okay kid, we had our talk. Just make sure that when you do your thing and make that climb to the top, you don’t disrespect or step on those of us who came before you. Look to the future, but never forget the past either.”
“Yes sir!”, Owens said.
“Now go get showered and dressed”, Race told Owens. “I’m going to go find Vince and put a little fear of Race into him. And when I get done with that, you’re coming with me, Flair, Orton and JBL.”
“Sir?”, Owens asked.
“Well, if this was twenty years ago, I would be obliged, even though it wasn’t your idea, to slap the shit out of you for disrespecting the U.S. Championship. But this is a different era and I’m a calmer, quieter, more gentle Harley Race now. So you’re going to the bar with me, Flair, Randy Orton and JBL and any other wrestler who decides to tag along. We’re drinking all night and it’s on you. Consider this a wrestling court sentence for the disrespect of the United States Championship. Do you have a problem with that?”
“No, I don’t think so”, Owens said quietly.
“Good man”, Race smiled. “Now go get showered and cleaned up. I’m going to go find Vince and have a word with him and then I’ll spread the word that drinks tonight are on the NXT Champion.”
With a nod, Race walked out of the room, looking for Vince McMahon. Owens watched the former NWA World Champion exit the room and then let out a deep breath he hadn’t even realized he had been holding in.
“Too bad Race isn’t twenty years younger”, he thought to himself. “A match between Harley Race and Kevin Owens would be a classic for the ages.”
Then with a small laugh, Owens sighed and added. “Who am I kidding? He’d whip my ass!”
Another sigh and then Owens started getting ready to head to the shower.
“I’d better hurry up and get ready. Tonight is going to be a long night!”